Our guest blogger Nicole Lutze takes a look at the growing tiny house movement and how it's helping people to live for less.

For many decades Australians have identified with home ownership to the point it has become part of our national dream. Traditionally, this dream has usually focused on owning a detached home on a quarter acre block, complete with a white picket fence and hills hoist.

But over time urban sprawl and suburban growth have pushed up the cost of housing, particularly in capital cities, to an almost unreachable level. This growth has also increased the number of smaller attached homes being built such as apartments and town houses.

Birth of the tiny house movement

When the global financial crisis hit the United States in 2008, a financial and social movement began to take place with people choosing to live in homes that weren’t just small, they were tiny; about 50 metres square!

Over the last decade the tiny house movement has spread across the world and is now being enthusiastically received by Aussies whom, like the Americans, dream of a mortgage-free existence in a detached home. Tiny houses recently made the news in Australia – rather unfortunately – when a tiny house was stolen from Canberra and relocated to Queensland within a day. On a brighter note, Melbourne is set to open the country’s first tiny house display village.

What is a tiny house?

While there isn’t a clear definition of a tiny house, they’re usually less than 50m2. Anything larger but still under 100m2 is considered a “small home” instead. Tiny houses are fully self-contained with all of the usual household amenities, and are most commonly built onto trailers.

The benefits of tiny houses

  • Affordability: while the cost of a $600,000 mortgage over 25 years will set you back almost $1,000,000 a tiny house can be purchased for anything from approximately $30,000.
  • Freedom to move: most tiny houses are on wheels and can be moved around with relative ease. This gives home owners a flexibility and allows an unprecedented option to be explored: renting land.
  • Freedom to live: one of the major benefits of tiny house living is that cleaning and maintenance are no longer onerous tasks, and the small space encourages a minimalist lifestyle.
  • Environmental impact: Because tiny houses are essentially portable homes, they make off-grid living in urban areas entirely possible. Most designs feature composting toilets, grey water treatment systems and are suitable for solar panels. They also use less materials in construction than a regular home.

A tiny house case study

The Tiny House Company designs a range of tiny houses built on trailers called pods that can be combined together in various arrangements to form a home.

While there’s obviously an appeal to young first home owners, owner Lara Noble says it’s a broader audience. “We get a lot of interest from middle aged women who have divorced, and people who generally want to get off the grid.”

Lara and her partner Andrew Carpenter both have backgrounds in architecture and design, and launched The Tiny House Company in Brisbane after attending a tiny house convention in the US. They originally made the tiny house that became their current Red Hill residence as a bit of an experiment. “We wanted to test the waters and see what the market would be like in Australia, and after we made it we realised that we should live in it,” says Lara.

Lara and Andrew have lived in the house for two years now and have since had a baby girl. The addition to their family has presented new challenges for the tiny house, but Lara isn’t overly phased. “Now that our baby is getting older it’s less ideal, however tiny houses shouldn’t be sold as something that suits everyone in every situation. It’s about giving people more diversity in housing.”

Laws and regulations for tiny houses

Tiny houses can theoretically be placed on rented or owned land. They are, however, a new and growing concept which means that the law makers don’t necessarily have their legal frameworks in place yet.

Lara and Andrew experienced this grey area first-hand when they initially received a local council enforcement notice, which they successfully appealed. The precedent that they set allows them to continue living in their tiny house on wheels without predetermined time limitations. All of the houses that the company builds are on trailers, so the rules that apply to caravans also apply to these tiny houses.

Lara advises people who want to live in a tiny house to get informed.  “Contact the council call centre in the area you’re interested in and ask them directly. If they aren’t aware of the term ‘tiny house’, ask them about caravan laws, as they are generally interchangeable.” There is also more information see in the FAQ section of Tiny House Company’s website.